Chemical splanchnicectomy in patients with unresectable pancreatic cancer. A prospective randomized trial

Ann Surg. 1993 May;217(5):447-55; discussion 456-7. doi: 10.1097/00000658-199305010-00004.


Objective: A prospective, randomized, double-blind study was completed comparing intraoperative chemical splanchnicectomy with 50% alcohol versus a placebo injection of saline in patients with histologically proven unresectable pancreatic cancer.

Methods: Standardized assessment of pain, mood, and disability due to pain was completed preoperatively and at 2-month intervals until death. Chemical splanchnicectomy with alcohol was performed in 65 patients, whereas 72 patients received the placebo. The two groups were similar with respect to age, sex, location, and stage of tumor, operation performed, the use of postoperative chemo- and radiation therapy, and initial assessment scores for pain, mood, and disability.

Results: No differences in hospital mortality or complications, return to oral intake, or length of hospital stay were observed. Mean pain scores were significantly lower in the alcohol group at 2-, 4-, and 6-month follow-up and at the final assessment (p < 0.05). To further determine the effect of chemical splanchnicectomy, patients were stratified into those with and without preoperative pain. In patients without preoperative pain, alcohol significantly reduced pain scores and delayed or prevented the subsequent onset of pain (p < 0.05). In patients with significant preoperative pain, alcohol significantly reduced existing pain (p < 0.05). Furthermore, patients with preexisting pain who received alcohol showed a significant improvement in survival when compared with controls (p < 0.0001).

Conclusion: The results suggest that intraoperative chemical splanchnicectomy with alcohol significantly reduces or prevents pain in patients with unresectable pancreatic cancer.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Actuarial Analysis
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Ethanol
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intraoperative Period
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Palliative Care
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / mortality
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Splanchnic Nerves*
  • Survival Analysis
  • Sympathectomy, Chemical*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Ethanol